Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Ember in the AshesThe YA Diversity Book Club has been going strong for almost a year now. (Woohoo!) Recently we realized that all of our selections so far have been either contemporary or historical -- i.e., realistic fiction. Wanting to broaden our scope and examine diversity in other genres, we looked to Sabaa Tahir's much talked about debut, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES.

Here's a brief description of the story:
Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier -- and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined -- and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

To be perfectly honest, after reading EMBER, I'm not sure that I would classify it as a diverse read. The world-building seems to draw from multiple sources -- most notably Ancient Rome, and a little from the Kashmir region -- but none of them comes through strongly enough for me to feel that I've learned more about a specific culture. That said, Tahir spun those influences into a wholly original setting and society, which is no small feat! And of course she is a diverse author -- a woman of color -- which I think is significant.

(Also, as Sandie pointed out in our group discussion, that still fits the We Need Diverse Books mission/criteria.)

Anyway, EMBER is a riveting and thoughtful read. For me, one of its strongest points was the dual POV structure. Sometimes two characters can sound too much alike, or the author will cover the same ground from both perspectives. But in EMBER, Elias is confident and wry, while Laia is fearful but determined, and each of their sections moved the story forward, adding information and building tension until the explosive (wink wink) end.

Interestingly, several other diverse books that we've read recently also featured dual POVs.

Like No OtherLIKE NO OTHER by Una LaMarche was YA Diversity Book Club's very first selection! A Romeo & Juliet story set in Brooklyn, between a Hasidic Jewish girl and a West Indian boy.

The Walled CityTHE WALLED CITY by Ryan Graudin technically features three point of views. Two girls and one young man struggle to escape a rough-and-tumble neighborhood inspired by the real life area of Kowloon in Hong Kong.

Lies We Tell OurselvesLIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley was another YADBC pick. Two teenage girls in Virginia grapple with their sexuality during the era of de-segregation.

The Storyspinner (The Keepers' Chronicles, #1)THE STORYSPINNER by Becky Wallace is a Brazilian-flavored high fantasy novel. It actually rotates between several characters, but due to 3rd person narration it still feels focused on the two protagonists, Johanna the storyspinner and Rafael the young duke.

What other novels do you think use dual POVs really well? Or are there any coming out soon that you're excited about? We want to know!

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For more on AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, be sure to check out all of our great features:

Our group discussion at the Reading Date
Q&A with Sabaa Tahir at Teen Lit Rocks
Standalone or Series? at Gone Pecan

Next month we're reading SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli (which the Gay YA Book Club recently discussed on Twitter). Please feel free to join us by reading along! You can also visit the full archive of YADBC posts and #YADiversityBookClub tweets.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Our local indie bookseller, Joseph-Beth, has been on a roll! On March 31, they hosted yet another great YA panel, with Emery Lord, Kate Hattemer, David Arnold, and Courtney C. Stevens.

As usual, I live-tweeted from the event, and I have collected those tweets here with some additional photos and tweets from other people in attendance. Below that, I also have a few more notes -- both funny and insightful -- from the authors. Enjoy!

And here's what couldn't quite be captured in 140 characters...


Kate hates drafting. Because it's like, "Good day's work? No! Bad day's work!" So she tries to do the first draft pretty fast -- like two months. (Plus that way, if she were to die suddenly, no one would ever get the chance to see it.) She relishes revision.

Emery revises as she goes. She especially hones the first third of the story, meaning that it takes much longer than the rest of her book. When she's stuck, she likes to go to concerts.

David wrote his first book as the stay-at-home dad of newborn. So basically: Whenever, wherever he could.

Courtney says, "Every book is a different beast." She actually threw away about 20,000 pages to get to the book that is now THE LIES ABOUT TRUTH. "I don't think that makes me a bad writer. I think turning in that first book would have made me a bad writer."

QUESTION FROM EMERY (who moderated the panel): What writer would you trade brains with? You could see their work-in-progress, and they could see yours.

Emery: Melina Marchetta
David: A.S. King
Kate: Richard Russo
Courtney: Markus Zusak and Neil Gaiman

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: People always talk about the challenges and frustrations of writing. What about the joys?

David wrote a lot of his story to his son. (So obviously that was very meaningful and rewarding for him.)

Emery writes to a point of catharsis. She writes to give herself a happy place.

Kate loves the feeling of getting the prose just right.

Courtney thinks the bad stuff actually doesn't have to do with writing and actually is just about personal insecurity. She anchors herself to moments that no one can take away. Like getting a message from someone about why her book mattered to them. Changing someone's life through art that you made.


"No one will ever think it's autobiographical," Kate joked about writing her debut novel from a boy's POV. She also added, "Or maybe that's because it's about a heroic gerbil..."

David and Courtney are writing a Middle Grade book together via email, just for fun. It's structured as letters between two kids, one at summer camp, the other back at home.

Kate finds that she's always talking about books. For example: She once chatted with her sister about Harry Potter for 4 hours straight. "That's what humans do; we talk in stories."

Somewhat related: Kate's little sister listened exclusively to Harry Potter audiobooks from age 2-6. She ended up with a British accent!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Link: "One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Laura Ruby" at YALSA's The Hub

A few highlights:

1. On being angry and getting perspective
I should have been humiliated by it all—by the drama at my school, by the forced psych evaluation, by the refusal of all these idiot adults to believe I’d written what I’d written, to believe me. Except I wasn’t humiliated, I was furious. And not furious in a self-conscious or inchoate way, not furious just for the sake of it. I was purely, righteously angry. I thought, here I am telling the truth and I’m being punished for it.

But after this happened, it was much harder to be angry at stupid little things, much harder to be humiliated by the need to ask a question. Some of the debilitating self-consciousness began to fall away.

2. On how we label girls, and a teacher who believed in her
For my first paper, I took a risk and wrote about how my mother used to call me “the smart one” and my sister “the pretty one,” with “pretty” being the much bigger compliment. I wrote about how limiting and hurtful these labels were, how the culture puts so big a premium on the way a girl looks rather than on how she thinks or what she does. I was walking out of class one day and the teacher ran after me. She held the paper up so I could see the A+ and said, “You will write a book one day.”

3. On trying even in the face of intimidation or uncertainty
Once, I was whining to my dear friend Anne Ursu about feeling incapable of writing a particular story, feeling like I wasn’t talented enough to do it. And she told me that it was good I felt that way, that you should always be working at the very limits of your abilities. What’s the point, she said, of writing a book you already know how to write?

But I think this advice applies to almost everything. It’s just a more elegant and specific way of saying, “Try. Just try.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Every once in a while, we'll be discussing a book we all enjoyed. Ingrid, who will have just finished reading it, will say "Oh, I need to own this book." And then Kristan will offer Ingrid her copy, saying that she'll never read it again anyway. Kristan's always running out of space to store books, so she's constantly in the process of bringing in new books and giving away old ones.

For me, saying I'll never read a book again and actually giving it away means I probably didn't enjoy it very much. When I like a book, I automatically plan to reread it, without even thinking about it. I may not ever actually get around to it... but the plan is there in the back of my mind. I guess I just always want to have the possibility of experiencing the story again.

I also find that I'm constantly returning to the last great book that really transported me, wishing to find the same magic it had the first time around, until I find the next book that captures me. It's always bittersweet rereading a book that you've lost yourself in before, because your first experience with it is something you can't have again. If only you could bottle that feeling.

The other reason I return to books is to scour them for inspiration. Every time I read a story again, I learn more about it and how it was put together. I know Sarah does the same thing. Every time she comes to a standstill in her writing, she rereads one of the books that gave her the idea in the first place. She uses it to recalibrate.

I feel like you could learn a lot about me by the books I've reread in the past year. The books I've reread lately are:

• The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy
• The How to Train Your Dragon series
• Shadow and Bone
• Alice in Wonderland
• Pegasus

Do you reread books? What have you been rereading lately?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Link: The Importance of Girls’ Stories: SLJ Chats with Nova Ren Suma About “The Walls Around Us”

A few highlights:

1. On "likable" characters
I don’t understand wanting to read a book to like the characters. I’m not reading for someone I want to be friends with. I’m reading for someone who’s interesting and fascinating, and that’s often a difficult character—a “bad character.”

It’s so much more fascinating to me to unpack someone who is not necessarily easy but someone who has many layers and is complex—that feels more authentic to me.

2. On writing about female relationships
For me it’s so important to tell stories about young women and to write books told from their perspectives—all kinds of girls. I think again to my own experiences as a teenager. It wasn’t about finding true love. When I was in high school, my focus was on my really close relationships with friends. There was terrible drama, breakups, and the loss of friendships and how devastating that was. It was intense. In my writing about young women, so much of it is about our disconnection and connection to one another. Because if I’m writing about authentic lives and teenage girls, so much of their lives is about relationships between sisters, friendships, and frenemies. In that time [teen years], those were the closest relationships I had with other women. It’s hard to have that kind of friendship when you’re older. It’s such a beautiful intensity.

3. On sexism in YA
I think the reason that it’s such a difficult thing to hear is that this is an industry made up of women. Librarians, authors, bloggers, editors, we’re all women. How could it exist if we’re all women? We have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask difficult questions. Why do we elevate male authors in YA publishing? Why can a male author write from a female perspective and it can be taken more seriously and not the other way around? Why are there more men winning more awards in such a female-dominated format? Why are there more men on panels?

This is a conversation that has been going on behind closed doors for a long time, and it’s finally coming out. I think it’s so important that we’re having it right now. There are so many smart people being brave and putting themselves out there, but there are people who just don’t want to hear it. Our core audience is teens. What are we saying to young girls about their importance and significance? What are we leaving behind for the next generation?
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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



on the shelf

The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
The Fault in Our Stars

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